Social workers must be more willing to explain their decisions to the public because a culture of secrecy is allowing sensible rulings to be seen as “random and idiotic”, according to the policy expert who carried out the Government’s independent review of the profession.
The recent outcry after three children in Rotherham were removed from their foster carers because it emerged they were members of Ukip showed that social workers must become “better at explaining our reasoning”, Professor Eileen Munro of the London School of Economics told The Independent.
“I haven’t read anywhere the reasoning for removing those children,” she said. “I can’t think it was as simple as saying ‘well they belong to Ukip, therefore they can’t foster children’. That’s far too naive a line of reasoning. The social workers must have had a more complicated line of thought.”
As a vital safety net for some of the country’s most vulnerable people, social workers have often borne the brunt of deeply unfavourable headlines, especially in cases where they have failed to do their job properly. Investigations following prominent recent child-abuse cases like the deaths of Baby P and Khyra Ishaq revealed how care workers had done a dismal job of preventing their murders.
But Professor Munro believes greater transparency in the more nuanced day-to-day cases – such as the removal of children from someone’s care – would help dispel many of the myths surrounding the profession.
“Nobody can get it right all the time but it does illustrate the complexities, the nuances of what you are looking at – of what would be in the best interests of these children, what is the harmful effect of moving them and what is the harmful effect of leaving them there,” she said. “They are very sophisticated decisions and I would like to see a profession which put most of its energy into developing a workforce who are good at those things rather than a workforce who are very rapidly moved into manage- ment.”
She added: “To criticise a parent is to get at the very heart of their identity. So they are dealing with issues that are of huge importance. What I would like to see is that we get better at explaining our reasoning so the public can be reassured they were well-reasoned conclusions.”
Professor Munro was commissioned to carry out an independent review of child protection for the Government in 2010. She said she was largely pleased with the progress made since the publication of her 2011 report. She made 15 recommendations and signalled a shift from previous reforms, which had resulted in a tick-box culture, which had unwittingly shifted the focus away from children towards bureaucracy.
One of her recommendations is for care workers to have a more open relationship with the media and to give a more detailed account of their work “so people understood a bit more that there was thinking going on behind the outcome even if they didn’t like the outcome”.